Unlikely Friendships

Unlikely Friendships

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were good friends.

In a world where rational discussion and respectful dissent is viewed as semi-impossible, these two Supreme Court justices demonstrated how it could work.  They didn’t simply clash over minute details: one could say they had almost fundamentally different views of the law and that translated into different worldviews.

My friendship with Judge, later Justice, Scalia was sometimes regarded as puzzling, because we followed distinctly different approaches to the interpretation of legal texts.  But in our years together on the D.C. Circuit, there was nothing strange about our fondness for each other.

Scalia Speaks Foreword by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Despite differences in opinion, they were able to have a genuine appreciation for each other.  In several sources, Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks of Antonin Scalia’s wit, grand presence, and shopping skills.  I don’t believe she is merely coming up with things to speak about for the sake of maintaining some public reputation of a friendship.  It has all the hallmarks of genuine sincerity–as evidenced by Ginsburg speaking at a memorial for Scalia following his death.

The friendship they share is significant to me because I, too, share a similarly surprising friendship.  Of my friends from elementary and high school, there are only a few with whom I keep up.  (Keep up is used rather loosely because I’m not really known for excellent communication where distance is concerned.)  Melissa was a close friend in high school and yet, in the years since, I think the friendship has deepened, though we speak infrequently.  Our friendship was born of mutual interests of theater, classes, and a desire to learn.  As the two ladies in calculus, we forged a deeper bond from confusion and frustration with the class.  Many of my memories from high school involve Melissa, whether it be laughter we shared, scenes she caused, or stories we told. Continue reading “Unlikely Friendships”

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In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

I mentally planned for the day.  I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment.  Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.

So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.

“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?”  Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.

“How about Archbishop McCarrick?  The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?”  Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks.  I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response.  In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.”  And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.

As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me.  While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.

Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

G.K. Chesterton

Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more.  One class reacted with more anger and bitterness.  It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified.  Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in.  I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry.  My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself.   Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”

Nostalgia

Nostalgia

Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer.  The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me.  However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.

Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota.  A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through.  I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me.  So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.

But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool.  For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away.  After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers.  Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.

These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation.  Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings.  The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”

My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks.  As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year.  Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship.  My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially.  My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent.  While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit.  As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.

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During my semester abroad, I spent some time making my “snow family.”  This is of my two older sisters.

After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth.  Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like.  When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic.  The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic.  While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been.   Continue reading “Nostalgia”

To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus

To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus

“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently.  I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”

A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing.  In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart.  I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord.  These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.

While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow.  We need to take quizzes and tests.  I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work.  Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.

How?  I’m uncertain.  I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand.  Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth.  The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.

I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ.  Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo.  Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period.  I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached. Continue reading “To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus”

What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

The first homeless man I truly met was Tony.

It was cold and we were all bundled up, but I made a concentrated effort to not mention the coldness.  I had only been outside for a few moments and this man had no home to seek refuge in against the frigid weather.  My perspective of the cold was altered in the presence of a man who stood before me after successive days on the streets.

Tony was tall and kind.  In situations where he easily could have been bitter, he chose to not be.  I was with a group of pro-life university students and he never once made me feel privileged or self-indulged.  One Saturday, a student bought Tony a coffee and I watched him graciously accept it, even as his cold hands shakily caused the coffee to spill on his fingers.  My face was etched with the concern and sadness I felt as I watched the scene unfold, but Tony sought to comfort me in this situation.  He told me to not be sad because even in his difficult situation he was still happy.  That momentary exchange made such a significant impression on me.

In a couple of hours, I would return to my dorm room after a filling breakfast and Tony didn’t attempt to guilt me for the luxuries I had in life.  Rather, he came to the cold streets of Pittsburgh to spend time with us.  He accepted money or coffees when offered, but he said he didn’t like to look homeless.  We wouldn’t see him pushing a cart around or laden down with luggage.  Dressed in the warm clothes appropriate for the cold, he didn’t want to accept extra things that he would have to carry with him during the day.

Tony was the first human face I saw of homeless in a personal way.  I heard him talk about how fearful he had been early one morning when the intense cold made it difficult for him to get out of the chair in an abandoned house that he had accidentally fallen asleep in.  The reality of not being able to move for a couple of hours shook him as he faced the reality that he might die alone in the cold someday.  Yet he was also very happy and enjoyed being around a bunch of young college students.  He wasn’t near us because we always gave him things or because we were popular in the area.  Tony enjoyed being with us and some of the students became his friends. Continue reading “What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need”

Is there free will in Heaven?

Is there free will in Heaven?

“Do people in Heaven still have free will?”

Our conversation started with evolution and gradually meandered to angels, free will, and humanity.  I told them that angels had free will and they asked if angels could still rebel.  Explaining that angels will their decision to follow or not follow God with their entire beings, they then asked if people in Heaven could sin.  When I said they wouldn’t, they wondered how free will could be found in a place where there was no sin.

“It seems like free will would just be an illusion,” they said, when I told them that in Heaven we would be purified and would always choose to follow God, even while exercising our free will.

I needed to make a correlation that they would understand.  One student compared it to pizza.  If he said he would eat pizza for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t be free to eat anything other than pizza.  That wasn’t quite the comparison I was looking for in order to explain the situation to them.

I’m not always very quick on my feet.  Sometimes, I want to beg them for more time and to consider than I am a slow thinker, a muller of thoughts and ideas.  Instead, I tried to think of something tangible that they could understand.  How could one make a particular choice that was forever and yet still exercise their free will?

Now that I consider it, I could have referenced Jesus or Mary.  Instead, I used vocations.

“Priests, religious, and married persons make vows that they intend to follow forever and yet they freely choose to will those decisions daily.  Our free will in Heaven is kind of like that, but we are able to perfectly will it always.”

A couple committed to marriage make vows to love the other in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful way.  They still have a free will, but they have publicly voiced their desire to always will the good of the other.  This doesn’t make them less free.  Instead, their commitment allows them to experience the freedom of total gift of self to another.  Yes, they could choose to cheat or leave or lie.  But if they follow the vows, they will freely choose to not do those things. Continue reading “Is there free will in Heaven?”

Joyless Pragmatism

Joyless Pragmatism

“I just wanted you to know that I won’t offer to pray in class because I’m not Catholic.  If you want, you can email my parents and ask them about it.  But when you look around the room for volunteers to pray, that’s why I’m not offering.”

A student had approached me after class one day and started our brief conversation with that explanation.

“Oh?  That is fine that you aren’t Catholic.  I assume your parents are not either, so I wouldn’t email them about it.  I still expect you to answer questions and participate in class, though”
“No, they are Catholic.”
“They are, but you aren’t?”
“Yes.”

I’ve often wondered why some people remain faithful to the religion of their parents and others don’t.  Considering that this student brought this conversation up in the first place, I figured I could try to ask some questions to get some bearing on the situation.

“Are you Christian?”
“No.  I believe in God, because I think it is silly not to.  I just believe he created the world but isn’t really active in it.  I’m not against Christians or anything.  I just think you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

This student seemed so…pragmatic.

I think the thing that struck me the most was how reasonable the student was striving to be.  Granted, I am grateful when students are reasonable, but I couldn’t help but sense an absence of joy in this system of belief.  In many ways, I was impressed with the responses I received to my questions.  Yet I also wondered if this lack of belief stemmed more from a desire to be intelligent rather than closely examining the issues.

The popular notion of ‘you do you, I’ll do me’ continues to baffle me.  If there is any honest pursuit of the truth, then clearly you doing your own thing and me doing my own separate thing cannot both lead to the correct answer.  Continual diversity in beliefs cannot lead to unity in the end. Continue reading “Joyless Pragmatism”

“Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”

“Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”

For me, the first activity of every new school year involves helping facilitate a leadership day for seniors.  They listen to a variety of talks, attend Mass, eat pizza, and write a senior prayer.  Unlike previous years, this year I was responsible for guiding the twenty-five or so students in constructing this prayer.

At the beginning, we brainstormed how we wanted to address God.  Then, we made a list of what would make up the bulk of our prayer: thanksgiving, petition, adoration, etc.  Finally, the part that took the longest was organizing these ideas and deciding which ones were closest to their hearts.

When you are dealing with twenty-five individuals, it takes a while to figure out what is most important.  During this time of discussion, they were attempting to narrow down what matters to them specifically as a class.

Then, this brief exchange happened and it struck me as pretty important.

One student said, “Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”  And while I knew what the person meant, I replied, “Actually, the prayer is about God.” Continue reading ““Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.””

The Importance of Truth

The Importance of Truth

“At the end of the day, does it matter if we believe or not?  Does it matter what we believe?”

The other day, one of my students spoke these words with great sincerity.  We were in the midst of discussing arguments for God’s existence and he delved directly to the heart of the matter: does what we believe matter?

I knew this question was going to divert us from the lesson plan I had for the day.  We were supposed to go through a few of the arguments, discuss them, and then share what we thought about those particular arguments.  But I find it difficult to pass up opportunities to discuss aspects of the faith they are genuinely interested in discussing.

So I took the bait.

I posed a question to them: Does truth matter?

They thought for a moment and then began to offer their responses.

“Yes, truth matters.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It is simply a matter of opinion.”

This is the heart of many debates in religion, politics, science, and simply life in general: what is true?  And, perhaps a question posed more in today’s world than in previous centuries, does truth matter?

I talked to my students about how some truths are opinion based.  It is true that I think blue is the best color.  People have differing opinions on this matter and I don’t worry about people who prefer red or yellow or green.  These are truths that vary based on the person.

Yet there are truths that are objective.  These remain true regardless of my personal opinion, knowledge, or awareness of that truth.  Gravity did not become true when it was discovered or defined.  It is because it is true that it was able to be discovered and defined.

Naturally, I would argue the same thing about God.  Either God exists or He does not.  He doesn’t exist for some and then not exist for others.  He either is or is not and my opinion doesn’t change this reality.

“But couldn’t we all be wrong?” one student asks.

“Sure,” I tell them, “that is why we rely on faith in addition to reason.  We choose to believe even though we may be wrong.”

“Wow.”  At least one student seemed surprised by my admission that we could be wrong.

“What we need to do is to honestly pursue the truth.  I believe that if we honestly do that, we will find it.  Of course, you know what I think is true.  I think God is real and He exists.  But knowing and seeking the truth is important.  Because if God is not real, I want to know now.Continue reading “The Importance of Truth”

My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart

My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart

This blog is entitled “Seeking After His Heart.”  Ideally, I like to think of my life as a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.  Yet sometimes I overlook the fact that it is really about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful pursing me.

God initiates all of our encounters with Him.  If He did not reveal Himself, we would not know Him.  If He did not allow us to perceive Him, then we would be completely unaware of His presence.  Even prayer, which can sometimes be viewed as something we do for God, is actually something He does for us.

In conversation with my spiritual director, he told me to not overlook begging Jesus for the grace to go to Him in prayer.  And sitting in the adoration chapel the other evening, I reminded myself that I was there simply because I responded to God’s grace.  I mean, it kind of felt like it was purely my choice, but I knew that it was God offering His grace and me, finally, responding to it.

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This initiation on God’s part is timeless.  All of the Old Testament covenants are made because God interacts with a human person and desires to be in relationship with them.  They don’t start the process.  “Hey, God!  I’d like to be a part of Your family!”  God reaches down to us and adopts us as His own.  Even greater still, He enters into the human family so as to bridge all gaps between us.  There is nothing left for us to do but to respond.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman with simple words, “Give me a drink.”  He seeks her out, He encounters her, and He asks her to enter into relationship with Him.  Yet I love the way that the Lord does this.  He reaches out to her and expresses His thirst for her. Continue reading “My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart”